Basics of World Building

World building. Every writer has heard that phrase and you know it’s important, but what does it mean exactly? World building is more than just creating the setting, it means building up the universe your story takes place in. This involves everything from descriptions of the landscape and animal life to your world’s creation myth to the history of the entire world. Today let’s talk about some basics for world building.

Your world building can be fantastical, in a fantasy or sci-fi story certain elements will be out in the stratosphere. But even with how fantastical these elements are, you still have to adhere to specified rules and set limitations on those elements in order for them to be believable. If one race has wings, are they big enough and powerful enough to actually allow that people to fly? If there’s magic in this world, what are the rules and who can use it while who can’t.

You need to world build, even for a known world like a modern day setting. These details don’t have to be a character in and of themselves, (unless you are writing urban fantasy where the setting is another character and a big part of the book), but you need to have a sense of a greater story world behind the scenes.

You don’t want your story world to be too obstructive, where it overtakes your story and is obvious author intrusion. It should fit seamlessly into your story and add to its depth.

World building can combine the known with the unknown, the real with the fictional in a seamless manner. There must be rules so that your reader can understand how the world works and be able to suspend disbelief and engage with your story. People may be able to fly with wings, mages on earth can siphon and use magic. But there are always rules for everything. Where does the magic come from? Who can use it and why? Who can’t and why? What is the cost of controlling magic? And this all goes on in the background of the story. But become glaringly obvious when the rules haven’t been properly established.

The interesting rules are the ones different from our own. These changes take the reader on a journey dealing with the plus aspects of this imagined world.

Ask yourself what’s important in this place? How does it best showcase conflict? Where do the MCs involved in the conflict reside in relation to each other? How do the MCs differ from everyday people or do they differ at all? What role can the environment play in the conflict both directly and symbolically?

Give hints of the past, but DO NOT INFO DUMP. Relevant information is presented only at the relevant times and then in an interesting and engaging way. What big events have shaped the past and the present?

Worldbuilding? Give hints of the past, but do NOT info dump. Relevant info when it's relevant… Click To Tweet

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Imagery is crucial to reader immersion, so paint pictures with your details. Avoid vague language and weak descriptions. Be specific. Use strong verbs and powerful similes and metaphors. Adjectives are weaker because they are all telling. Show, don’t tell is important. So don’t skimp on the details or your imagery. Evoke all five senses.

Time to factor in people. You may have different cultures or different organizations in your story. These will have a history and have meaning in their status in the world. They will also have the mash up of things that is culture. You’ll really want to focus on making each one distinct and different. You can also play with religions, languages, and philosophies. Remember for each group there will be leaders and outliers and there will be some kind of governing system in place. Plan out these people and politics and they will affect that world. You will have several representatives of each group or culture. Remember to make them real people. Give them a goal to work towards and a flaw to make them relatable. Don’t just rely on a token character.

Do your research. Most of what you learn and decide aren’t going to go into your actual story, but it’s important that you know what you’re talking about to write this story. Do your research. Learn from similar cultures in the real world. Explore other religions and their tenets and rituals before you create your own. Understand how these broad concepts like culture and history actually work so you can write your own.

This has been an introduction to the concept of world building. We will continue to tackle different aspects of world building for the month of May. What are your tips for world building? Share below and happy building!

Julia

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J.K. Allen

Columnist/Illustrator at Our Write Side/OWS Ink, LLC
Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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